Sunday, 21 August 2016

No Apologies for the Infinite Radness 1.1.15 - "Good Riddance (Time Of Your Life)" (Green Day)

Man, this was just everywhere in the late '90s. A recurring medical condition that would flare up at every other open mic set across the student bars of Durham, over a year after Nimrod was released. Every third soulless singer-songwriter would play it with the exact same arrangement, i.e. identical to the original but with all the nice picking at the start cast aside because it was too tricky. Cowards and hacks, that's what we were back then. How completely we failed to understand anything we were presented with.

The thing is, though, once you cut away the picking that brackets the song, and remove the swooping strings (however understandable doing that is when you're at uni and you've got no money and no mates), what you're left with is a fairly simple strum-along. Which is still charming, don't get me wrong. A lot of that charm comes from its purposeful vagueness, though. This is a song for pretty much everyone who's ever dumped somebody and told themselves what follows will be some kind of bittersweet knowledge you did what was best for both of you that fades into precious memories of when things were good.

And that can happen, obviously. In practice, though, I'm not sure we should be all that keen on the odds.  I don't think it's any coincidence that this was the imposed soundtrack of our first year at university. The place was stuffed to bursting with people working out how to dump the other halves they were with before they arrived in the land of booze and bonking, and each of them was trying to come up with a more romantic justification for moving on than the place they were moving on to being stuffed with silky totty.

Which gives Green Day the last laugh. They saw those jokers coming a mile away. The song itself might be about wistful, melancholy break-ups where you wish the best for each other and carry on happily but separately, but the actual title - which could have come long after the song was recorded, of course - is "Good Riddance". That feeling of positivity rarely lasts. For most of the people I had to sit through singing this song whilst missing the point on every level possible, I imagine it would survive until, at longest, their next trip home for the holidays, when they actually had to interact with their former loves. That's when you're force-fed your guilt and shit it out as anger. That's when "it was worth all the while" tends to turn into "All that while was worthless".

I don't remember seeing any of those smug wannabe-troubadours polluting bars with their sweet laments to faded love once I got into my second year and changed my social habits.

Good riddance.


Thursday, 18 August 2016

Geek Syndicate Review: House of Penance #5

Still pretty much at the top of its, or anyone else's, game. Check my review out.

Wednesday, 17 August 2016

Lee's Love Song

Amazing Thrace, Cylons inbound
Your Viper's prepped for thee
Face each toaster, and shoot them down
And then fly home to me.

(It's probably better if you imagine Felix Gaeta singing it.)

(I promise I'll stop eventually.)

Tuesday, 16 August 2016

Five Things I Learned At Nine Worlds 2016

1. The Duke Mitchell "Night of the Trailers" was problematic af, with several of the trailers completely inappropriate for a crowd who sees nothing wrong with cross-dressing or queer coding, and rather a lot wrong with catering for the male gaze.

That said, both the short films shown were rather nice, and the second in particular was delightfully sweet and melancholy. I've embedded it below, and strongly suggest you give it a try; it's only fifteen minutes long, and entirely lovely.

It's also worth noting that we got to vote on whether to see this. We had the choice between this, described as "funny and sweet", or two sci-fi films, one "weird" and the other "gritty". We went with this one. Which, honestly, how cool is that? How many other screening sessions at a sci-fi/fantasy convention are going to plump for "sweet" over "weird" and "gritty"?

This is why Nine Worlds is my home now.

2. A depressingly small number of Trek fans understand the difference between utopianism and utopia, conflict versus disagreement, and realism versus adolescent grimdark. I feel really bad about saying I hoped Star Trek Discovery returned to the utopianism of early-mid TNG, because it led to a dozen or more people to drone on about how the Federation should be considered venal and corrupt, as though that were mutually exclusive to the ship's utopianism. I mean, there's probably worse things to say in a discussion about Star Trek than "the human race is built on conflict", but I'm not sure what they'd be, short of actual bigotry.

Still, at least I knew I wasn't the worst (albeit accidental) derailing specialist in the room; that prize went to someone two seats from me who'd decided the queuing system to speak put in place by the (rather excellent) panel didn't apply to them, so long as they were correcting somebody else. Needless to say, more than one of their corrections were incomplete, or flat-out incorrect. So well done, self-appointed fact-checker! You're an arsehole and useless at your job!

3. Red Seven is a rather nice game, even if its name makes it a rather cruel trick to suggest playing it during a sci-fi convention (clearly an AU tie-in opportunity there). Jamie described it as a better-designed Fluxx, I called it a child's primer to R. Scott Bakker's benjuka, because I'm pretentious.

Either way, it's one of those games where your actions change the rules themselves. Players receive seven cards, each a unique combination of colour (red to violet) and number (1 to 7), hence the name of the game. Each card can be played in front of you (in your "palette") or be placed on top of the rules deck to change how the game is operating - each colour has its own winning condition. You can play a maximum of one card to each location a turn, so there's never more than 98 strategies you can enact when it's your go.  By the end of your go, you have to be winning by the current rules, or you're out. So either you have to play a winning card under the current rules, change the rules so you're now winning, or do both.

Which is pretty straightforward, with none of your turns requiring more than two minutes to work out what combinations will keep you alive for another round. The part where it gets interesting is knowing that every card you use to improve your palette is one you can't use to change the rules, and vice versa. Having the red seven (the most powerful card in the game since there's a colour hierarchy with red on top) is really useful under red rules (highest card wins), of no more use in general than any other under blue rules ("most different colours wins"), and an active drag factor under violet rules ("most cards under 4"). If you play it in your palette, you can't use it to switch to the red rules which it's an automatic winning card. If you play it on the rules pile so that highest card wins, you'll need a different high card to avoid going out. Your resources keep dwindling, in other words, and it's made more difficult by knowing every card you give up could be the one you need when someone else changes the rules, and that every time you have to change the rules and play to your palette to be winning, you've used two of the seven cards you started with, which could leave you unable to take a turn whilst others still have cards left to play.

It's immensely elegant, tactical without being overwhelming, and all over in five minutes. Very much recommended.

4. A more serious one here: the talk and subsequent discussion on fat representation in genre fiction was absolutely fascinating.  I took away a few recommendations (I'm more eager than ever to find a way to experience Steven Universe without having to pay a ludicrous amount for it) and acquired some useful zingers/responses for future use. Mainly though, I was amazed at how little tolerance people in the room had for any of the "nicer" synonyms for fat, insisting that fat was what they were, and this was fine, and trying to find other ways to say it is just an attempt by people to separate the fat people they like from the fat people they don't.  Which is so obvious a point I'm amazed it had taken me so long to encounter it.

Which I guess is to say: I am fat.

(I also learned from someone in the audience that in her experience she got far more anti-fat remarks directed at her whilst presenting as feminine than she did when presenting as butch. This is the sort of thing that even decades of getting crap over your weight can't lead you to understand when you're a cis-het white guy.)

5. The history and uses of filk are both great fun to learn about, and common meter is incredibly useful:

"Oh Elven grace, how sweet the ground
In Rivendell I see.
I once was lost, but now I've found
A homely house for me."

Tuesday, 9 August 2016

The Second Rebellion

It can be difficult, as an atheist, to talk to people of faith. Richard Dawkins and his associates have sown too much salt in the places that seeds of conversation might otherwise flower. The distinction between atheist and anti-theist is one not always picked up on, even by those who want to engage in good faith (no pun intended).

So as always, the standard disclaimer: disbelief is not disrespect. But - and this is where I sweep away my carefully-laid cloak to reveal a sheer drop into the Bog of Eternal Stench - there are certain ideas central to the religious beliefs of hundreds of thousands of people that my political philosophy requires me to take strong exception to. To not merely state that I don't believe in the God that allegedly espouses these ideas, but to argue their very existence makes the world a worse place.

One of the worst of such notions is that suffering is necessary or even good for us.

Thursday, 4 August 2016

Sometimes They Come Back

I haven't really written much about Trump's rise to public leader of the Republican Party because, really, what's the point? No-one who reads this is remotely likely to disagree with my opinion of the man, and if by chance a Trump supporter gets so lost among the internet weeds that they stumble onto my blog, what hope have I of persuading them of their error?

But that doesn't mean I haven't been paying attention. It doesn't mean I'm not concerned. And not just about Trump himself. Yes, clearly, the prospect of President Trump is beyond terrifying. Last I checked Nate Silver has Trump's chance of victory at around 15%. Long odds if you're betting your life savings in a casino, sure, but still vastly too high for me to sleep properly until November. Sure, it's only half the chance Silver gave Romney four years ago, and Mitt was resoundingly thumped come the day. Still, though. 15%. If you get pregnant today, it's more likely your child will be born under a Trump presidency than they'll be born on a Sunday.

That's not why I'm writing this post, though. What terrifies me - what truly scares out every atom of waste product my body contains - isn't Trump. It's the guy who comes after Trump.

Because what Trump has demonstrated, utterly beyond argument, is that the Republican nomination AND a minimum of 131 electoral votes (just under half of what's needed to win) is more or less automatically yours if you run as a fascist, even if your campaign is incompetent and your candidate is an idiot thug. Seventeen states, including the second-most populous in the union, will happily wave in a new era of bigoted tyranny even if the new generalissimo doesn't seem capable of tying his own shoelaces, let alone negotiating an international treaty.  In the current political climate the only way in which you might fail to secure the nomination is if someone else runs who's better at being a fascist than you are.

That's what terrifies me. Not that Trump will win, but that next time around everyone will be a Trump. But smarter Trumps. More well-disciplined Trumps. Trumps who knows when to reach for the dog-whistle. Trumps the GOP and its media allies can pretend aren't even Trumps at all.

This is not a wild hypothetical devoid of supporting evidence. The politicians and media on America's rightmost flank faced what I'm sure was an ugly choice in the weeks since Trump's coronation. They could admit this cluster-cuss was the inevitable result of two decades of rightward drift, political tribalism, and the cynical embrace of white supremacy. Or they could insist Trump was an aberration, something never to be repeated following his inevitable defeat.

To no-one's surprise, many if not most immediately made a mass dash for door number 2. The solidifying narrative in the right-leaning media would seem to be that Trump is not only an obvious political outlier, but one created by the left. When your reaction to seeing an actual fascist take control [1] is to blame your political opponents for claiming the last three guys also had some pretty extreme tendencies, you reveal yourself completely. You don't want to avoid horrifying extremists. You want to avoid horrifying extremists you can't give cover to. You don't want better people. You want better masks.

Well Ted Cruz is busy carving his mask right now, and he won't be the only one.

And that's just the crimes of those who've admitted anything is amiss. Plenty of career arseholes are acting as though this is simply business as usual. Mark Rubio, Paul Ryan and Chris Christie have all endorsed Trump (admittedly with varying degrees of enthusiasm). In doing so they leave us with only two possible conclusions: either these career-politicians would actually prefer Trump to Clinton, or that they secretly want him to fail but think a future in the modern GOP requires them to establish fascistic bona fides. The difference isn't really all that important. It doesn't matter if they want it themselves or just know their voters want it. Either way, the future isn't fewer Trumps. It's "better" Trumps.

Defeating Trump is of course utterly necessary to prevent the arrival of fascism in the United States. But it isn't sufficient. Sending Trump packing come November isn't a final victory, any more than the failure of the Beer Hall Putsch represented the end of Nazism (yes, I went full Godwin; fuck you). Hell, Hitler went to jail, and he still got to take control of an entire nation. At best, Trump [2] is just going to lose a national vote, and that by far less than he should.

Fascism doesn't slink away to die when you knock it down. It comes back. It comes back smarter. It learns where it went wrong and it adapts, like a flu virus in jackboots. And it keeps coming back until eventually it's smart enough or even just lucky enough to win.

And the people who once thought they controlled the American Right have decided they can live with that.

[1] Albeit one so lacking a coherent political philosophy that actually nailing down what type of fascist he is proves difficult, though incompatible goals and positions are nothing new to fascistic thought in general. 

[2] Who is almost certainly not going to be the next Hitler. But he might be the next Hitler's test-case.